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Josh Groban indulges his inner musical theater geek with ‘Stages’

Multi-platinum artist Josh Groban is on tour for his latest album, “Stages,” which features covers of Broadway songs. He joins Jeffrey Brown to discuss how he picks his songs, the influence of early arts exposure in shaping his love of performance and what he sees for his future of music-making.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Finally tonight: Recording artist Josh Groban recently kicked off a tour for his latest album, “Stages,” which features covers of songs from Broadway.

    His music has sold more than 25 million albums worldwide.

    Jeffrey Brown caught up with him about his multiplatinum career and the role of the arts in his life from an early age.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    I think I want to start with the song, the idea of the song. What it that attracts you to one? What makes you feel you must sing it?

  • JOSH GROBAN, “Stages”:

    Well, there is a little bit of a head vs. heart kind of battle that happens sometimes with the song.

    There’s the goose bump thing, where the melody or whatever it is just gets you and you don’t know why. Sometimes, it’s in a genre that you didn’t think you liked and, all of a sudden, the song hits you and you just say, wow, I feel the hairs on the back of my neck. I love this song.

    And then there’s the cerebral side of, you know, what is this song saying? What is the story that I want to tell here?

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    You think about story?

  • JOSH GROBAN:

    You think about that. You think about, is the lyric smart enough? Is it something that satisfies that side as well?

  • And so when those two things come together, you realize it is the song. And sometimes the song is not in the language that you are fluent in, so sometimes the song is a demo that you have recorded at 2:

    00 in the morning, where you have goose bumps, but it’s all in gibberish at this point because you haven’t put a lyric to it. And then sometimes…

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    You’re not sure what the story is at that point, right.

  • JOSH GROBAN:

    You’re not sure what the story is. But for whatever reason, that, whatever that is, has the it factor. And it really all comes down to from the moment that happens to the moment you have mastered it and put it out, that that feeling happens.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    You know, in the latest album, “Stages,” you are specifically taking great songs from musical theater, right, and doing what with them?

    Because these are songs that, in many cases, have been interpreted many times.

  • JOSH GROBAN:

    Countless times, yes.

    And that’s intimidating. And so there are some songs…

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    It is, right?

  • JOSH GROBAN:

    Oh, very intimidating.

    You’re taking off the songwriter hat and you’re putting on the interpretive hat. And with that comes a great responsibility. And so, as a singer, of course, self-indulgently, it’s a joy to take a song like “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” or “Bring Him Home” and say, OK, well, I’m just — I’m going to sing it.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Do you listen to the other renditions?

  • JOSH GROBAN:

    I have of course listened to them.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Yes. How could you not, right?

  • JOSH GROBAN:

    They have been in our DNA for so many years.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Yes.

  • JOSH GROBAN:

    But I don’t listen to them with the intent on recording them or singing them the same way. I listen to them for inspiration based on the fact that the songs are so universal, that so many different people can record them and have their own moment with them.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    I noticed that, in some cases, you did strip them down to a much more spare…

  • JOSH GROBAN:

    Yes. That was a nice surprise when that happened. We fully intended on putting the full orchestrations. We did it at Abbey Road with most of the London Philharmonic.

    And then there were the songs where we really felt like taking a breath from that. Like, “Bring Him Home” was just piano, one take. Just worked surprisingly well. And that’s a testament to the melody.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Do you like the power of that orchestra behind you? I mean, that’s how we see you most times, right?

  • JOSH GROBAN:

    Yes, I really do. I would be lying if I said I didn’t. It’s a pretty cool feeling. It’s a high-five to the 15-year old theater geek whenever you’re standing in that room.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Is that 15-year old there?

  • JOSH GROBAN:

    Oh, absolutely.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    He’s sitting in front of me.

  • JOSH GROBAN:

    He is. He’s there. He’s definitely there. He couldn’t grow a beard then. That’s different.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Right. Right.

    But he wanted to be in front of the orchestra and on the stage?

  • JOSH GROBAN:

    Absolutely. The 9-year-old, 5-year-old me wanted that.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Really?

  • JOSH GROBAN:

    I had the bug at a very young age. And it’s truly because of the arts exposure that I had from my parents, from teachers, from PBS that allowed me…

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    You’re welcome on behalf of all of us.

  • JOSH GROBAN:

    Well, yes, absolutely. I have so much thanks for that, because it really gave me that spark. It made me realize that that’s out there. And, in turn, it gave me my first moments of truly my most honest voice and real communication.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    You have, as much as anyone perhaps, found the space in a — some call it a crossover world or different genres. Right?

  • JOSH GROBAN:

    Sure.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    What do you see yourself as doing? Who are you reaching to, what are you aiming for?

  • JOSH GROBAN (singing):

    Who am I anyway?

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Yes. Is this something you think about or is just — did it all just…

  • JOSH GROBAN:

    No.

    And that’s the kind of off-putting thing, when you read about people putting you in a place or what genre you are or subgenre that you’re in. It’s jarring when you read that stuff, because I’m just me to me. And the songs that I sing and the songs that I write have always just been what I feel my voice does well, and what my inspirations have been and a kind of culmination of everything.

    But the voices that I grew up loving are the voices that, within five seconds, you can tell exactly who that is.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    When you look out that far — and I get to talk to a lot of especially musicians nowadays in a hugely changing music history, right?

  • JOSH GROBAN:

    Oh, yes, for sure.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    How do you maintain the success you have had? How do you reach new audiences? You’re still with a record — records are — you’re still making albums, right?

  • JOSH GROBAN:

    Sure, yes. Yes, sure. Yes.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    In an age where that’s almost — nobody does it.

  • JOSH GROBAN:

    Yes, of course.

    Well, there’s kind of a singles mentality now. We have all kind of — there’s a whole new generation that’s being — that is kind of being conditioned to stream, and download song after song. And I think that my course doesn’t change.

    I still want to make an album from song one to song 12 that is an experience for my fans. Truly, it’s up to every artist to still make great music, and not let the immediacy of the technology make the artist lazy. You still can’t download a great concert where someone is in the seat and feeling goose bumps in a great theater. So, that’s why I love touring so much.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    I see you’re doing a lot more acting now.

    Does this signify a certain restlessness from music or…

  • JOSH GROBAN:

    It is, definitely. It’s a side of my brain that is saying you have got to do some of this.

    I was a theater major in high school I was at an arts high school, so I was able to study drama there. I eventually went to Carnegie Mellon University for musical theater training. I left to sign a record deal. And music became my everything.

    But the acting was definitely half of what I loved about storytelling and about theater. So, when I get a chance to do a cameo in a show or do a movie, it’s a lot of fun and it’s always great stepping outside of yourself and either playing a bizarro version of yourself or playing a character.

    So, yes, there will more, hopefully doing some Broadway in the next year. We will see.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Well, Broadway, that’s big-bore, yes?

  • JOSH GROBAN:

    Yes, it would be. Yes, it would be a…

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    That’s not — from your high school stage to a little camera on TV to Broadway, that was a big leap you just made.

  • JOSH GROBAN:

    No.

    Yes, it would be a great leap. And the reason that it hasn’t happened so far is because it takes so much time and effort to mount a Broadway production, and something that you can put the time and effort into. And so I’m constantly looking at things. I have been honored to have had some wonderful offers in the last few years, but the timing hasn’t worked out.

    So, I’m really looking at this next year to hopefully make that leap and hopefully include some of the acting into what I do.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Josh Groban, thank you so much.

  • JOSH GROBAN:

    Thanks for having me.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    PBS will air a full concert called “Josh Groban: Stages” live in December. Check your local listings for more.

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